THE WILD BLUE YONDER
Valarie Tes Anderson
I’m a California native. While there is an endless supply of outdoor arenas to visit in my home state, they are all becoming overcrowded. Seeking new adventures, my husband and I moved from the Most populated state to the Least populated one, Wyoming!
The Equality State, is the 10th largest and least dense with people. A perfect recipe for “small town feel” no matter where you go. Even the largest cities are easily traveled from end to end with wide open spaces on all side. No traffic! I mean zero! If you are at a stop in the road it’s probably because a herd of sheep are crossing (true story). Also known as the Cowboy State there is an abundance of old west ways and heritage here. Cows, sheep, and horses dominate the scenery, and rodeo life reigns for these true cowboys. All this and more, including clear blue skies, clean air, stars at night, and the friendliest people.
What draws people to Wyoming is all the outdoor recreation. Land heavy and rich in natural resources, tourism is dominated by the nation’s first National Park, Yellowstone, and by the first National Monument, Devil’s Tower. The Grand Tetons are just south of Yellowstone, so it’s easy to visit both on a drive through or a weeks long vacation. This is all in just one corner of the entire state, the South West. I live in Ten Sleep, population 260, on the North East side of the state, and at the South foot of the 1.12 million acre Bighorn National Forest. Here you can find just as much adventure, if not more, than some of the most icons places in Wyoming.
The town of Ten Sleep saw its first White settlers in the early 1800s in the form of cattle ranchers. Before that the Crow people (Absorkee) traveled through the Bighorn area, only stopping to rest in the basin on their way to and from larger settled area. One account indicates it was 10 days, or sleeps, total and another says it was 10 to the basin and 10 more to the next stop. Clara White Hip, known as Kills the Pretty One, recounted that her people never stayed in once place more than 3 to 7 nights, but this area rich in buffalo and resources encouraged them to stay 10 nights, especially if tribal wars broke out and they needed a base camp.
All of the earliest White settlers came for the land. Ten Sleep Cattle Company (English capital) and Bay State Cattle Company (of Nebraska) were the first two large and vested ranching operations to run the area. The first log cabin in the basin was set down by and called Old Bay State Ranch. Since then it has passed over and again into private hands, but the current owners still herd livestock there with remnants of many historic buildings. Men came west for money and opportunity. The late 1800s finally brought women and families.
Creeks and springs pop up everywhere in the area. Most settled where the Ten Sleep Creek and Nowood Creek converge south of the town today. Some say Nowood received its name when a group of men arrived and found no wood to even start a fire. Others settled nearby creating homesteads in places only known by their creek names, like Deep Creek, Gooseberry Creek, and Sand Creek. This was a time when everyone owned a covered wagon and it took over 2 months to travel with all of your worldly possessions and family just from Colorado. In fact, all three of the famous Emigrant Trails pass through Wyoming: The Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the California Trail.
Sheep didn’t come into the basin until 1892, whereas before it was all cattle country and breaking horses. Welshman David R.B. Moses, against the cattlemen’s wishes, brought the first herd in and across the Nowood Creek. Community minded he and his wife set aside land for a town cemetery and also donated the land for the first Methodist Church in town to be built. Being an unwanted sheep man he was later murdered on his own land and was the very first to be buried in the cemetery.
On a personal note, Carl Hampton arrived in 1913 from Iowa at the age of 8 with his parents who were from Virginia. As an adult he decided to start a sheep business in 1942 with his dad Cyrus and brother Kemper. Hampton Sheep Company, sill exists today lead by his son Sam Hampton and family. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name is Hampton, and I’m currently looking into a connection as her family also came west in one of the many migrations.
The early 1900s brought a rise in the deep tension between cattle and sheep men. Those in the cattle business began murdering sheep herders on accusations of being “over the deadline” or in territories they self designated as only for cattle use. In 1909 the infamous Spring Creek Raid took place. Two wagons and several thousand sheep headed off into the Bighorn forest. When they arrived one wagon stayed south at a camp, the other traveled north with the sheep. A band of cattlemen decided to burn both wagons and kill a large group of sheep. What actually happened was three men from the North wagon were shot, and the men in the South wagon capture but later released. They helped to identify seven men who were later caught and charged with various crimes from arson to first degree murder. This ended the raids and murders, but not hard feelings.
People eventually moved on, more concerned with getting their families through hard times and bad winters. Although cash was scarce at times most settlers did not go hungry for the home gardens and plenty of wild game. Several schools popped up to serve the small communities in the area. The Big Trails school was the first, open from 1896 to the 1950s. Much later it became a home, and then was moved and gifted to Ten Sleep in 2003 where it resides behind the town museum open to the public.
The Mann Schoolhouse of Nowood, open from 1909 to the 1920s, was eventually donated to Methodist Church. It was moved to town and used as an annex, then later a home that still stands today as is very well preserved. Many of the main town’s earliest homes are cared for and inhabited today. The free town museum can direct you to these historic homes and has a dedicated display to the Spring Creek Raid.
A few of the larger town buildings are still being commercially used. The Bighorn bar was originally the Minute Stop Cafe run and owned by early settlers. In between it was a home, billiards hall, and poker room. Dirty Sally’s is the town’s goto for all mercantile needs. It has always served as a supplier of town resources since it’s early days as a bank, telephone exchange, doctor office, grocer, pharmacy, post office, and fountain shop. They still have the best ice cream in town, set on waffle cones made to order. The first Methodist Church in the county was located in town, eventually replaced, and in 1975 the original was moved to the Circle J Ranch, which is the last residential land before the National Bighorn Forest begins. It began as a dude ranch called Wigwam Lodge for tourism (noted as the first to have electric in 1941), and over the years was also an apple orchard, saw mill, store, and grazing land for sheep. Circle J Ranch is now owned and run by the First Methodist Church and serves as a religious retreat for all ages. The apple orchard is part of a fall festival fundraiser, and the church is open to public visitors.
In 1939 the Wyoming Game and Fish Department constructed the Ten Sleep Fish Hatchery. Nestled outside of town, and just inside the National Forest boundary line it is home to the endemic Cutthroat Trout. You can visit the facility and tour the grounds year round. There is plenty of signage to read, and if you catch one of the three full time attendants they will prove to be very informative.
Through town up into the forest Highway 16 (also known as Cloud Peak Skyway) traverses the South end of the Bighorns. Lake Creek, about 13 miles past the border, saw its first cabin, named Meadowlark, built in 1921 by Carl and Beulah Isbell in the adjacent meadow. A sincere lodge and resort began to form, but in 1937 a dam was completed causing Lake Creek to fill the meadow flooding the original cabin. Just the chimney remains, and the future rebuilt lodge was moved due to weather and proximity to the highway. The 1940s brought skiing to the area, eventually building a lift, and is still operating today offering skiers and snowboarders several runs during the winter. Included at the resort are cabin rentals, a bar, restaurant, and year round equipment rental. Meadowlark Lake offers regular and ice fishing, swimming (although it is very cold from year round snow melt run off), and acts as a natural reservoir.
The rest of the National Forest is available for biking, cross country skiing, snow mobiles, ATV riding, rock climbing, and fly fishing all within their regulated seasons weather permitting. The area is a geological gold mine. Signs displayed along the highway indicate how old and what kind of rock is seen, as well as historical stops with safe pullouts and detailed information posted.
The heart and center of the Bighorns is the protected wilderness of Cloud Peak. There are no roads, buildings, or other structures in the 189,039 acre refuge for mule deer, elk, moose, black bears, and mountain lions. These often wonder down out of the protected area into the man forest, and are highly visible. You can reach this pristine area only by foot, hiking or backpacking your way through over 100 miles of trails to alpine lakes, waterfalls, and Cloud Peak Glacier. There are two peaks above 13,000 (Cloud Peak and Black Tooth Mountain) and over a dozen above 12,000 feet. Permits are required and available through the Forest Service for travel to fish, horse back ride, and hike.
Another big draw to the area besides all of the amazing outdoor recreation is the Ten Sleep Rodeo. In the early 1900s ranches would rotate hosting a local rodeo on Sundays before organized rodeos were a thing. Eventually an annual event was created and in 1926 the first Fourth of July Rodeo saw over a thousand attendants. It’s been a town staple event ever since, drawing thousands to the area over 3 days of riding and competition. The main street is closed down for the parade and later that evening a bbq and dance extending into the wee hours of the morning.
Traveling through town and on the back roads many dilapidated cabins and ridge dugouts can be found. They were homes, shelters, and rest stops for the earliest homestead and ranchers. Ten Sleep officially became a town in 1932, after years of growth. Today it is still one of the best snap shots into small town USA with a thriving cowboy lifestyle run by cattle, sheep, and horses. There is much iconic history to unveil here, whether your interest lay in geology, early man, Native Americans, almost any outdoor activity, or simply enjoying the old west ways.
More Ten Sleep Resources:
– Crazy Woman Cafe – Good breakfast, the usual round up of plate options as well as pastries made in house. You can take items to go, including coffee and tea. They serve lunch as well, and in summer their ice cream parlor is open.
– Ten Sleep Saloon – Family friendly, and more than just ‘bar food’. The only option in town for dinner. Serves pizza and take-out. Cases of a variety of beer available here and at the gas station.
– Ten Sleep Brewery – Yup, even we have our own brewery! I recommend the Speedgoat brew for those that like pale ale. Trivia on Friday nights, and food trucks in the summer. Buy a growler and take your beer home or back to camp with you.
Worland (40 min):
– BLM – Bureau of Land Management where you can ask for directions and guidance for local fossil collecting at Big Cedar Fossil Ridge.
- Washakie Museum – Very well organized and presented. This is a great chance to take a peak back in time. Their geological, dinosaur, and early man exhibits are fantastic. Also on site is more information about both towns’ early starts.
- Food – Brass Plum serves the best breakfast, and the people who own and run the kitchen are picture perfect Wyoming hospitality! For dinner and Mexican food try El Ranchito. Two main grocery stores are here, where you can find almost anything year round.
Thermopolis (60 min):
– Entertainment – named aptly for its thermal activity there is a hot springs water park here, the Star Hot Springs, complete with slides, a high dive, and grotto. Visit the Wyoming Dinosaur Center museum, home to one of the most complete archaeopteryx fossils ever found (the earliest known bird).
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/bighorn/recarea/?recid=80618 (Bighorn Permits)
http://www.travelwyoming.com (Wyoming Tourism)